USF softball coach Ken Eriksen talked Tuesday for the first time since he took his players off the field in the second inning of a game at DePaul on Sunday, and while he won't yet discuss his reasons for choosing to take a forfeit loss, he said it will be addressed after the Big East issues a response to USF's concerns about the "safety and welfare" of players in the game.
"Our team's philosophy has always been to do the right thing, do it right now, do it the right way," Eriksen said after landing in Louisville for the Big East tournament, which starts Thursday. "We're pretty excited about being here. Our team right now has more of a renewed energy and motivation to hit the field again."
USF hasn't elaborated on the reasons for Eriksen's decision to take his team out of Sunday's game, saying only that the issue wasn't related to officiating or field conditions. Had USF been able to win, the Bulls would have been the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, but instead, they'll face host Louisville, with top-seeded Notre Dame potentially waiting in Friday's semifinals.
The Big East has been reviewing USF's concerns since Sunday and could issue a response Wednesday, when the league's top eight teams are gathered in Louisville for the tournament. It's unknown what that might entail, largely because it's still unknown what USF is accusing DePaul of doing that prompted the decision to forfeit.
Eriksen isn't a fan of the Big East's scheduling format where teams play only some of their conference rivals in the regular season, but he may have an advantage Thursday in that Louisville hasn't faced his pitchers, who have the best staff ERA in the league. He could throw freshman lefthander Sara Nevins, or start sophomore righty Lindsey Richardson, knowing Nevins can close the game in relief if necessary.
"With as strong a pitching as we have, I think I'd rather do that (face a team for the first time)," Eriksen said. "We feel really good about the the pitching and the defense that we have. Going against a team that hasn't seen your pitcher all year, I like that. I feel comfortable with that."
USF missed the tournament last season, finishing ninth in the standings, and Eriksen likes the three-day, single-elimination format, which means any team that plays well for three games in a row can leave Louisville with a championship trophy.
"You drop the first one, you're done," Eriksen said. "If you can put together a great three-game set and you're playing good softball, you can walk away feeling pretty good after Saturday."
USF went 1-4 against the league's top two teams in Notre Dame and DePaul, but held their own against both, with Nevins taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning of the first game against the Fighting Irish and the Bulls handing DePaul one of its two conference losses.
"I think our young team has really matured throughout the year," he said. "Notre Dame had eight, nine seniors going against you. That's a lot of maturity there. DePaul had a lot of maturity in their program. They've been there, winning the Big East last year, going to NCAA regionals. I like the way our young team developed through the whole year."